1900 – Present
Though professional baseball was first played in Pittsburgh in 1876, the team that evolved into the Pirates, the Pittsburgh Alleghenies, joined the American Association in 1882, and the National League in 1887. Then known as the Innocents, they became the Pirates by “pirating” second baseman Lou Bierbauer from Philadelphia (AA) following the Players’ League revolt of 1890.
In 1900 Barney Dreyfuss bought the club and virtually merged it with his Louisville Colonels. Hall of Famers Fred Clarke and Honus Wagner came from the Colonels and formed the nucleus of baseball’s winningest team (938-538) in the 20th century’s first decade. The Pirates were the best in the NL in 1901 and 1902. In 1903 Dreyfuss and Harry Killilea, owner of the American League Boston Pilgrims (Red Sox), agreed to hold the first World Series, won by Boston 5-3. Pittsburgh made its second WS appearance in 1909 with a club-record 110 wins, and defeated Detroit in seven games. That season also marked the club’s move from Exposition Park to brand-new Forbes Field.
The Pirates won pennants in 1925 and 1927, led by Pie Traynor, Max Carey, Kiki Cuyler, brothers Paul and Lloyd Waner, and manager Bill McKechnie. They took another seven-game Series from Washington in 1925, but dropped four straight to the awesome 1927 Yankees. There was a near-pennant in 1938, spoiled by Gabby Hartnett‘s “Homer in the Gloamin’ ” for the Cubs.
When Dreyfuss died in 1932, he was succeeded as club president by son-in-law Bill Benswenger. In 1947 a group led by John Galbreath and featuring Bing Crosby bought the club from the Benswenger family. Despite the presence of Ralph Kiner (1946-53) and GM Branch Rickey (1951-55), the Pirates compiled a 326-597 record from 1950 through 1955. New GM Joe L. Brown and manager Danny Murtaugh turned the club around. Pittsburgh defeated the Yankees in the 1960 WS in dramatic fashion on Bill Mazeroski‘s seventh-game, ninth-inning homer.
The 1960s were dominated by the brilliance of Roberto Clemente, the magnificence of Mazeroski, and disappointing finishes. The Pirates could never quite muster enough pitching to go with their outstanding offense and defense. Then things began to change. On July 16, 1970, they moved to new Three Rivers Stadium. They became the first team to wear double-knit uniforms. The Lumber Company seemed to have an endless supply of talented young hitters. Joined by Willie Stargell, Manny Sanguillen, and Al Oliver, Clemente led the Pirates to an upset victory over Baltimore in the 1971 WS. When Clemente died in a plane crash on New Year’s Eve of 1972, Stargell took over as team leader.
In 1977 new manager Chuck Tanner brought speed to the offensive attack. Stargell led The Family to a seven-game, 1979 WS win against Baltimore. But the Pirates finished last from 1982 to 1984. Dismal attendance forced the sale of the club by the Galbreath family and Warner Communications to a public-private coalition called Pittsburgh Associates. The rebuilding job went to GM Syd Thrift and manager Jim Leyland.